There were several major population centers on the Island of Maui: Kahakuloa (West Maui) region; the deep watered valleys of Nā Wai ‘Ehā (Waiheʻe, Wai‘ehu, Wailuku and Waikapū;) the ‘Olowalu to Honokōhau region of Lāhainā; the Kula – ʻUlupalakua region and the Koʻolau – Hana region. (Handy, Handy & Pukui)
Kahakuloa is a valley that sits between Nā Hono A Piʻilani, The Bays of Piʻilani (aka Honoapiʻilani – the six hono bays (uniting of the bays:) from South to North, Honokōwai (bay drawing fresh water), Honokeana (cave bay), Honokahua (sites bay,) Honolua (two bays), Honokōhau (bay drawing dew) and Hononana (animated bay) to the West) and Na Wai ʻEha to the East.
The importance of the region is reflected by the number of heiau that were reportedly present in precontact times. There were a total of seven heiau that were recorded in the Kahakuloa area. These heiau included Hononana, Kaneaola, Kuewa, Keahialoa, Pakai, Waipiliamoo and Kukuipuka. (Kukuipuka heiau was reported to have been a place of refuge for West Maui.) (Xamanek)
According to Handy the name Kahakuloa refers to a small and famous loʻi about one-half-mile inland in the bottom of Kahakuloa Valley.
This irrigated kalo patch belonged to the haku or lord of the land. Because of the isolation of the area, the haku became known as the “far away master” – ka haku loa. Kahakuloa was “one of the most genuinely native communities still extant in the islands [with] a population of about 20 families, all Hawaiian and all taro planters.” (Xamanek)
Descriptions differ on whether Kahakuloa is an ahupuaʻa or another type of land division. The island (mokupuni that is surrounded by water) is the main division. Islands were divided into sections within the island called moku; typically, there was a Kona on the lee side and one called Koʻolau on the windward side of almost every island.
These districts were further divided into ʻokana or kalana (smaller districts.) The next subdivision of land is the ahupua’a, which has been termed the basic unit of land in the Hawaiian system. Portions of ahupuaʻa were called ʻili.)
The region as Kahakuloa was known for extensive taro loʻi (irrigated taro cultivation.) Here the taro that grew in the sacred patch of the aliʻi was reputed to be of great size. (Maly) In addition, it was known for ʻUala (sweet potato cultivation.)
The Māhele land records indicate that much of the lands here were Crown lands with several properties going to Victoria Kamāmalu (daughter of Kīnaʻu, the wife of Kamehameha II) and a number of small awards were granted in the Kahakuloa Village region; many of these awards were granted for taro loʻi cultivation.
During the mid-1800s, a large portion of the surrounding region was used for sugar cane and macadamia nut agriculture, as well as extensive cattle grazing.
Haiku Fruit and Packing Co. utilized some lands in Kahakuloa to grow pineapple. Pineapple production in this part of Maui went into decline after the Great Depression in the 1930s and appeared to have ceased by the 1960s.
Kahakuloa is a small isolated village at the end of a valley – it is described to be a “cultural kīpuka that survived the onslaught of development after Hawaiʻi became a state.” (McGregor)
Standing tall and overlooking the coastal shoreline is Kahakuloa Head, 636-feet high and known historically for a King Kahekili’s Leap.
During the late-18th century, Maui chief Kahekili, a rival of Kamehameha, was known for many legendary feats in the ancient Hawaiian sport of lele kawa (to leap feet first from a cliff into water without splashing.) Legend says that in the early morning, the King would climb up the hill and “leap” into the ocean below from about the 200 foot height.
Access continues to be limited to this area (some suggest rental car agencies do not allow rentals to attempt to traverse the region.)
Coming from the West, you start on Honoapiʻilani Highway (Highway 30 – with ascending mile markers,) but as you travel through, the road transforms to Kahekili Highway (Highway 340 – with descending mileage markers.)
A lot of the way is single file on a single lane road – often without makai barriers. There are hairpin turns, steep ocean-side drops and narrow one-lane sections. Along the way are the Bell Stone, Olivine Pools and Nakalele Blowhole; in the valley is the Kahakuloa Congregational Church, founded in 1887.